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For integration, an oath is not enough

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

In the wake of the Casey Review, which examined integration in the UK, the idea of swearing an oath on British values has gained traction across media and political discourse. At Wonder, we appreciate the Review’s role in highlighting the plight of women who have been marginalised by their poor English language skills, but believe that discussions around the idea of an oath obscure the real need to invest in tailored language provision and cross-community initiatives.

Our recent London-based research into why vulnerable migrant and refugee women struggle to learn English found that, for many, classes were inaccessible due to issues such as cost, lack of local provision, and failure to provide lessons in spaces where women feel safe. If the government -including Communities Secretary Sajid Javid - is serious about responding to Casey’s recommendations around improving provision and funding of language classes, these barriers and others, including poor mental health and childcare needs, must be understood.

For women who did manage to start learning English, we found that they often were unable to find native speakers with whom to practice. This highlights an important point that was largely missing from the Casey Review – that integration is also not just the job of migrants. It cannot happen if efforts are one-sided. Instead, it’s up to all of us in London and around the country to take the initiative. By reaching out to newcomers and neighbours alike, we can help migrants practice language skills, and bring together people from diverse backgrounds to build relationships and shared values. Without these interactions, an oath of integration will mean very little.

A version of this blog originally appeared as a letter in the Evening Standard on 7th December 2016.

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